By Liane Davey
Have you been putting off a difficult conversation?
The longer you wait, the more obscured the facts will become. Without objective examples, the conversation is more likely to stray into emotional and judgmental territory. Also, a delay begs the response, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
If you deliver your message delicately, and leave time to hear the other person’s point of view, you’ll find that the conversation is less uncomfortable than you expected. Withholding feedback that could help a coworker isn’t nice—it’s neglectful. You may have delayed because you’re afraid of triggering a defensive response. To mitigate that risk, make your message as objective as possible. Remove judgment-laden terms and stick to the facts. Rather than saying, “You were highly disrespectful of me in that meeting”, point out, “You spoke over me on three occasions.”
People don’t like to be blindsided by difficult conversations. Send a brief message to your colleague a couple of hours before you meet. You can say something as simple as, “I want to follow up with you about your presentation.” Leave enough time for your colleague to collect his thoughts, but not so much that panic sets in.
When you get to the moment of truth, be as authentic as possible about your discomfort—your body language will tell the whole story anyway. You can say, “I should have shared this with you earlier, but I couldn’t find a way to say it without becoming upset.” You can also frame the conversation by saying, “I value you so much as a colleague and a friend, so I wanted to take the time to say this right.”
It’s possible that the difficult conversation will trigger an emotional reaction. That’s OK. Stay calm and take your cues from the other person. As long as you don’t overreact, most people will prefer to get the uncomfortable conversation over with.
Don’t end the conversation too quickly. If you leave while things are still fully charged, the discomfort will transfer to the next interaction. Let the discussion continue for a little while, until you’ve returned to a normal tenor. You’ll feel better once it’s over.
Liane Davey is the cofounder of 3COze Inc.